Beginning January 1, 2006, everyone with Medicare, regardless of income or health status, will have access to prescription drug coverage. The enrollment period begins November 15 and private companies that have been approved by Medicare to provide the benefits were permitted to begin marketing their plans October 1. Each company will follow Medicare guidelines, but they will differ in such aspects as the drugs they cover, the costs and where the drugs can be obtained.
This benefit, while exciting for seniors, is also creating an opportunity for scam artists. Better Business Bureaus report that crooks are calling seniors, masquerading as "approved" providers or government officials, and offering to sign them up over the telephone. Their goal is to wrest personal and financial information from seniors that they can use to steal their identities or money.
Seniors and those who care for seniors need to know how to identify the legitimate approved Medicare Prescription Drug providers from the "pretenders." The BBB offers the following tips when evaluating the various plans being marketed:
- Carefully review the Medicare & You 2006 handbook that has been provided to every senior citizen. The booklet explains in detail what prescription drug coverage means to you and which plans are available in your area.
- Legitimate providers are not allowed to market the drug plans door-to-door or via unsolicited e-mails.
- Legitimate providers are permitted to contact consumers, but they must observe federal and state do-not-call laws and registries. Also, they should be willing to send you information about the plan in the mail, and to wait to obtain any necessary personal and financial information until after you decide to enroll.
- If someone calls you out of the blue to offer a Medicare prescription drug plan and asks for personal and financial information, obtain their name, the name of their company or agency, and their phone number. Ask them to send you information about their plan in the mail. Do not provide your bank account number, your Social Security number or any other personal information over the telephone.
- Verify the legitimacy of any provider that contacts you by calling the Medicare toll-free phone number, 1.800.MEDICARE (633.4227), which is open 24 hours a day.
- Additional information about the new Medicare prescription drug coverage; how to assess your needs and review plan options; and, how to choose and enroll in a plan is available at www.medicare.gov.